When I was a kid, Election Day to me, was a holiday, like Hari Raya or Chinese New Year. The days and weeks before would be abuzz with excitement and anticipation, and the build-up every bit like the lead-up to one of our ethnic festivals; a festival of little red rocket flags dancing criss-cross over the streets where I lived, while blue ones with scales waved mightily in the wind in other parts of town.
One election year, I’d asked my aunt, who secretly supported the rockets but still voted for ruling party, why she would vote for a party she did not support.
“Because of stability and peace,” she’d said. “You will understand when you grow up and have children.”
You see, those were dark times, just barely ten years after the riots. The memories of curfew and people vanishing into the night, of stocking up biscuits and canned goods and rice, were still fresh in the head of my then-30-something aunt. So how could I blame her? These are memories that would last not just a life time, but a few generations.
Five years later, she voted the ruling party again (and I know these things because I went to the voting stands with her).
Again, I questioned her because I knew how she truly felt, even if I was merely a child.
“Look at our town. With the rockets still here, the government has not developed our city. If the ruling party wins, we will at least see some development again.”
So this time, she did it for her town. My aunt had very practical reasons.
As I grew up, things political began to swim into focus, slowly.
Why can’t I go to a local university? Because I’m not smart enough to get into the quota.
Why can’t I get that loan, with the better interest? Because I’m not them.
How come we have to spend so much money on this guy when he doesn’t even come for meetings? Because we need his name.
This has been our way of life. Don’t like it? Go back to China, said my Standard Six teacher.
When I became a parent, my concerns for my family took my aunt’s message home and pinned it firmly on my heart. I have others who depend on me now. I can’t afford to fight anymore, even if I’d wanted to. I have to keep the peace. Enjoy what I have and be thankful. This is our lot. Might as well just hold on to whatever dignity we still have and focus on other things.
I did that, and something else as well. Instead of voting for peace or voting for change, I did what many young Malaysians did: Nothing.
I did not vote. I am 13 years into my eligibility and have seen two elections.
I stayed clear of the fight. I stayed neutral. I sided no one.
For that, I believe I am better than my aunt because at least, I am being true to myself. Myself being the neutral and impartial citizen who wants only to carry on with her life, detached and disassociated from the mess that is happening around me, my indifference a bubble. Be in the world but not of the world, as the old biblical saying goes. It’s as good a line to hide behind as any.
Apathy has become me. Passivity my country. The fence my flag.
But here’s the truth: I am worse than the shit-stirrers. And way way worse than the rest of the mob, because what good am I, the responsibly indifferent mother?
Who will you vote for, Mom? they’ll ask. What do you stand for?
My vote is for peace. And therefore, I stand for everything.